The Patchwork Years

The years 2001-2007, approximately, on the web were the crazy years. The patchwork years. The years the web was massively and chaotically pumped full of Stuff. 1995-2001 were pretty crazy, of course, but they were checked by connection speed and the limitations of personal publishing. By 2002, broadband was happening over a broader swathe of the world, and blogging had bitten in. Followed by the takeup of bit torrent, YouTube, podcasting, and every other damn thing.

One of the few sane responses to this explosion of production was to assume the role of curator. (Other sane responses include moving to the woods and considering a completion of the work Ted Kaczynski started.) The two most famous examples of same are Jorn Barger’s Robot Wisdom (est. 1997) — Barger is said to have coined the term "weblog" — and Mark Frauenfelder’s Boing Boing (est. 2000 as a weblog, previously a print magazine est. 1988), co-produced for much of its life by Cory Doctorow, David Pescovitz, and Xeni Jardin. The latter, in particular, has spawned countless imitators, all deeply involved in doing the web-work of 2001-2007 — sorting out all the weird crap that’s out there and re-presenting it in some kind of ordered and aesthetically or politically filtered manner for our consideration.

My own filter, on the site from 2002-2004 before I moved that side of things to, was simply gathering research material. It had occurred to me that if I gathered my internet-based research on to a searchable database — something as simple as a blog — I’d have access to it anywhere I could get an internet connection. Which, for someone who usually travels with mobile devices, was kind of a big deal. And so I’ve found myself calling up reference through a Web TV five thousand miles from home while writing on a Treo handheld device and foldout keyboard in order to meet a deadline, before now.

In the shift from there to, I’ve taken great pleasure in reporting the doings of my network of mad and beautiful acquaintances, further personalising the curation process. But it is, regardless, a curation process.

Anyway. That’s been the job of half the web, for the last several years — collating links from the other half of the web. Last year, I started getting a little itchy about this.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could stand up now and say, okay, these are the post-curation years? The world does not need another linkblog. What is required, frankly, is what we’re supposed to call “content” these days. When I were a lad, back in the age of steam, we called this “original material.” Put another way: we like it when Cory and Xeni are the copy/paste editors for the internet, but we like it better when Cory writes a book and Xeni makes an episode of BoingBoingTV.

(In fact, if you read any of the abhorrent comments threads on BoingBoing, you could be forgiven for coming away with the notion that its readership would be happy if it shut down tomorrow.)

(It’s also notable, I think, that my favourite “new” groupblogs — Ectomo, Coilhouse, Inferior4+1 — don’t just link and go. But anyway.)

And, frankly, no-one’s going to do a better job of being the internet’s copy/paste editors than the BB crew anyway. They have the time, they have the money, they have the setup, they have the audience and they have the momentum of nearly a decade in the job. Nobody needs another linkblog like that. There are already thousands of them. The job of curation is being taken care of. Look ahead.

The weblog has evolved to the point where, today, it’s possibly the most effective way of transmitting material that any of us could have imagined. Look at Tumblr. It’s the easiest thing in the world for writers to use — and also artists, photographers, videographers, spoken-word artists, musicians and a dozen other things. Imagine a jewellery maker, a laptop musician, a performance artist, a cartoonist and a short-story writer getting together on a single Tumblr to make themselves an internet channel. The tools are all there, baked right into the site for free. Not groupblogging so much as groupcasting.

And with a million people all madly curating the web — in many cases, trying to put your link in their curational record before someone else does — getting linked up isn’t exactly hard any more. These aren’t the days of begging for space on someone’s jumpstation anymore.

The above is, as Simon Reynolds puts it, “not fully baked.” I want to come back to this once I’ve cleared this flu out of my system — which is why I have this bottle of whisky — and cleared out some of the work backlog.